Baptism: Becoming a Christian

The Sacraments of Initiation—Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist—are the foundations of the Christian life.
In his dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus taught that Baptism was necessary for salvation. “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (Jn 3:5). After his Resurrection, Jesus met with the eleven Apostles and gave them the commission to preach the Gospel and baptize, telling them, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:16). The word baptism in its origins is Greek and means “immersion” and “bath.” Immersion in water is a sign of death, and emersion out of the water means new life. To bathe in water is also to undergo cleansing. St. Paul sums up this truth when he says, “You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col 2:12).

Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. —Rom 6:3-4

Baptism is birth into the new life in Christ. In accordance with the Lord’s will, it is necessary for salvation, as is the Church herself, which we enter by Baptism. —CCC, no. 1277

The origin and foundation of Christian Baptism is Jesus. Before starting his public ministry, Jesus submitted himself to the baptism given by John the Baptist. The waters did not purify him; he cleansed the waters. “He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake…to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water” (St. Gregory Nazianzen, Liturgy of the Hours , I, 634). Jesus’ immersion in the water is a sign for all human beings of the need to die to themselves to do God’s will. Jesus did not need to be baptized because he was totally faithful to the will of his Father and free from sin. However, he wanted to show his solidarity with human beings in order to reconcile them to the Father. By commanding his disciples to baptize all nations, he established the means by which people would die to sin—Original and actual—and begin to live a new life with God.

    The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation. “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit” (Jn 3:5). Christ commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel, draw people to faith in him, and baptize those who come to conversion. The Church does not neglect the mission she has received from Christ to ensure that all be baptized and reborn of water and the Spirit.

    “Incorporated into Christ by Baptism, the person baptized is configured to Christ. Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ. No sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation. Given once for all Baptism cannot be repeated” (CCC, no. 1272). This spiritual mark is also called a character, which St. Augustine likened to distinctive brandings impressed upon soldiers and slaves during Roman times to signify the commander or owner to whom they belonged. Baptism marks us permanently as belonging to Christ, whose image we bear.

    Reborn…[the baptized]…must participate in the apostolic and missionary activity of the People of God. —CCC, no. 1270 “Baptism is the door to life and to the Kingdom of God. Christ offered the first sacrament of the new law to all that they may have eternal life. Baptism is, above all, the sacrament of that faith by which men and women, enlightened by the Spirit’s grace, respond to the Gospel of Christ” (“Christian Initiation, General Instruction,” in The Rites of the Catholic Church [1976], no. 3).

    In Baptism, the Holy Spirit moves us to answer Christ’s call to holiness. In Baptism, we are asked to walk by the light of Christ and to trust in his wisdom. We are invited to submit our hearts to Christ with ever deeper love. What is this light, this wisdom, this holiness? Jesus is clear about the high ideals to which he invites us:

    Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt 5:48)

    Be merciful as your Father is merciful. (Lk 6:36)

    Love one another as I love you. (Jn 15:12)

    The Lord Jesus, our divine teacher and model of all virtue, preached holiness of life to everyone without exception. Through Baptism, we are cleansed of all sin, are made partakers of the divine nature, and are truly sanctified. Our goal now is to hold onto this gracious act of sanctification that we have received from Christ. St. Paul lays out a practical plan for holiness:

    Put on, then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another. If one has a grievance against another, as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. (Col 3:12-13)

    This is a strong challenge that we cannot meet by human strength alone. “Accordingly, all Christians in the conditions, duties and circumstances of their life and through all these, will sanctify themselves more and more if they receive all things with faith from the hand of the heavenly Father and cooperate with the divine will, thus showing forth in the temporal service the love with which God has loved the world” (LG, no. 41). The baptized are called to transform the world with the light and power of the Gospel.

    Living out one’s Baptism is a lifelong responsibility. Growing in holiness and discipleship involves a willingness to continue to learn through- out one’s whole life about the faith and how to live it. It also involves a willingness to support and encourage others who share the faith and who have committed themselves to the ongoing process of conversion of heart and mind to God, which results in the holiness to which we are called.

Doctrinal Statements

The Sacraments of Initiation are Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.

The Risen Jesus commissioned the Apostles to baptize when he said, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19-20).

Baptism gives a person birth into new life. It is necessary for salvation and for entry into the Church.

The rite of Baptism consists in immersing the person in water three times or pouring water on his or her head three times while invoking the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The effects of Baptism are delivery from all sins (Original and personal), reception of the grace of divine adoption, being made a member of Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit, initiation into the Church, and being made a sharer in Christ’s mission as priest, prophet, and king.

Baptism seals the person’s soul with a permanent spiritual mark or character identifying one as belonging to Christ. Because of this character, Baptism cannot be repeated.

People who die for the faith, catechumens who died before being baptized, and those who do not know Christ or the Church through no fault of their own but who, by the action of grace, seek God sincerely and do his will can be saved even without being baptized.

Infants have been baptized since apostolic times, for this is a gift from God and does not presuppose human merit. Children are baptized in the faith of the Church.

Trusting in God’s mercy, we confidently hope for the salvation of children who die without Baptism.

In time of necessity such as the danger of death, all persons can baptize. The person baptizing must intend to do what the Church does, by pouring water three times on the candidate’s head while saying, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”